Bird Flu Continues but Export Impact Lessened

Market to Market | Clip
Nov 11, 2022 | 7 min

New outbreaks of HPAI were reported this week in Wyoming, Wisconsin, Virginia, Ohio, Washington and Pennsylvania. 

Nearly every state has dealt with infections this time, but many things have been learned since the last big outbreak eight years ago.

Colleen Bradford Krantz reports in our Cover Story.


Experts warn the 2022 global outbreak of high pathogen avian influenza, or HPAI, isn’t over. While fall has typically brought about a resurgence as migratory birds begin their journeys to warmer climates, this summer also included what the World Organisation for Animal Health called an “unusual persistence” of the virus in wild birds.

Brian Earnest, CoBank: “We are seeing… cases of HPAI showing up through the summer months this year, which is atypical. The suggestion here is that we may see this be endemic in at least wild flocks moving forward. Looking at Europe, what they are seeing for their poultry flocks: they’ve had the worst case of AI on record there this year.”

In the U.S. so far, flocks in 46 states have had confirmed infections during 2022. Fifty million birds have died or been euthanized. In the last two weeks, two egg producing facilities in Wright County, Iowa had to euthanize more than 1 million laying hens each. Smaller commercial turkey and chicken flocks in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Mississippi were also hit.

Regardless, poultry remains safe to eat, and experts say humans must have close and prolonged contact with birds to get sick with what are typically mild symptoms like fatigue.

Brian Earnest, CoBank: “Egg producers have seen the largest impact from an overall depopulation standpoint, then followed by turkeys. I think roughly 7.5 million turkeys have been depopulated… so around 3 percent of … the total annual production.. And more of a minimal production impact for birds that are produced for broilers production or chicken production as consumers see it.”

One export official says that the last major high path bird flu outbreak, which hit the U.S. in 2014-15, provided lessons that have helped minimize the current outbreak’s financial impact on commercial operations.

Greg Tyler, president, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council: “At that time it affected about 50 million birds, and it was a loss to the industry of about $4.2 billion. Exports alone was about $1.3 billion in losses. Fast forward seven years to 2022, and we’ve started having more HPAI outbreaks, it has hit a larger area of the country, it is across all four flyways… The damage that we have faced this year has been about $1.7 billion. Compare that to 2015, where we were hit with $4.2 billion.”

After the last outbreak, the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council worked with USDA to seek changes with world trading partners. The resulting “regionalization agreements” shrank the geographic area that would be shut down in the event of an outbreak.

Greg Tyler, president, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council: “These agreements are so that, if we have an outbreak in a particular county in a state… some countries used to ban the entire U.S. and now they are only banning the state or even down to the county level and in some cases just a radius around the site where the infection took place. So that has helped us to keep product flowing from the United States. And this year, despite the challenges that we’ve had with HPAI, we are expected to hit a record number of exports of $6 billion.”

Consumers are still seeing an effect at the grocery store, but not so much with chicken meat as with turkey and egg prices. The lingering effect of COVID-related food service shutdowns, which dropped demand for sliced deli meat, are also at play for turkey.  

A West Liberty Foods plant in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, that processes turkey and other pre-sliced deli meats will be closing in 2023 after 20 years in operation. Other plants owned by the company will remain open.

Brian Earnest, CoBank: “You are seeing fresh tom breast meat rising to levels it’s never been before, up above $6.50 a pound, whereas typically that’s been sitting around $2 a pound prior to 2020. So some significant price pressure for the consumer for turkey meat in general as a result of both the consumer transition but now high-path AI kind of folding in on top of it… This time around...we have seen a really sharp increase in shell egg prices and it really hasn’t eased despite some seasonal lull that we typically get in the summer months. From a production standpoint, they have depopulated flock to equal a little over 30 million so far… But we are still seeing cases like in Iowa, for instance, where we have some larger flocks being depopulated… It puts volatility in the market.”

The deaths of wild birds from HPAI – now numbering at least 400,000 – are also getting attention worldwide. At the same time, a global conversation has begun over the possibility of vaccinating domestic flocks.

Greg Tyler, president, USA Poultry & Egg Export Council: “There are vaccinations that are available. And, of course, that’s been a touchy subject for exporters because if we vaccinate here in the United States, we are basically taking ourselves off the export market because a lot of trading partners will not accept product from a country that vaccinates. That’s become a hot topic lately is whether or not industries around the globe will start using vaccinations. The Europeans are looking at that to try to protect their flocks because it is very costly.”

But the World Organisation for Animal Health is warning that vaccinating birds will present some challenges. Birds can still get infected and show no symptoms, making surveillance of the disease more challenging and possibly allowing silent transmission.

By Colleen Bradford Krantz,